If appropriate, we will consider approaching the local authorities if you are not treated in line with internationally-accepted standards. This may include where your trial does not follow internationally-recognised standards for a fair trial or is unreasonably delayed compared to local cases. We can also help to put you in contact with the charity Fair Trials International.
Attending court hearings: If a British national asks you to attend a court hearing as an observer you should explain that consular staff do not normally attend court hearings. If asked, you should explain that we are not legally trained and cannot, therefore, comment on proceedings; nor can we provide interpretation of those proceedings. There are serious resource implications in sending one or more members of a consular section as observers to hearings that may run for several days.
8. HMG is normally entitled to intervene when we have concerns for the health, welfare or human rights of British nationals or fear they are being discriminated against. Consular officials at Post should try to:
9. Note that we should avoid anything that constitutes interference.
Grounds for intervention
10. The criminal process can differ greatly from country to country, and issues of human rights, discrimination and delay can arise at different stages in many different ways. Many issues are more appropriately and effectively addressed by the defendant or their lawyer. But there are also occasions we can and should consider intervening. For example:
NOTE: British nationals should be treated the same as local nationals and in accordance with international human rights law, whichever is the higher standard. Equal treatment as local nationals is not generally a defence to the breach of international minimum standards or human rights.
11. This description of basic rights and standards is only intended as a general guide. Consular staff should familiarise themselves with this table when dealing with criminal trials. Post should note problems British defendants regularly face and local practices in those areas. For example, are interpretation services only provided on the day of the trial or sooner? Do British nationals regularly face severe delay? You might also consult your Honorary Legal Adviser as well as Chancery Section and DfID. The completed table should be available to everyone in the Consular Section and Country Casework Team.
Interventions: who & how?
12. Once we have established the grounds for intervention we need to consider whether to intervene in a particular case. We do not have to intervene even if we have grounds to do so. There may be many reasons not to do so, not least because we may judge intervention to be likely to be counterproductive. Where we have the grounds and decide upon a course of action, interventions should be appropriate and effective. We should decide who we should intervene with (e.g. the police, the prosecutor, the MFA) and how to do so. We should not do anything that constitutes interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state and should be aware of other cases, relationships and priorities. But we should promote the human rights of British nationals and can remind local authorities of their international obligations.
13. Lobbying local authorities can take many forms, and is often an ongoing process. You may wish to consider the following:
Consular officers can check the progress of a case, most often through direct contact with the court registrar, and consider further representations as a result.
Expressions of interest are an easy and discreet way to let local authorities know that we are following a case and can prevent problems further down the line. They can serve to bring a local case to the attention of central authorities. It is important to emphasise that we do not intend to interfere or pass judgment on the substance of the case, e.g. guilt or innocence. Expressions of interest can come from any level, including ministerial, and should be addressed to the executive arms of government, not the courts themselves.
Consider raising specific concerns orally or in writing with local authorities at whatever level you think appropriate and effective. A simple well-targeted phone call may be enough.
Notes verbale are a more formal way to raise our concerns, and often carry greater weight with local authorities. They are a good way to remind local authorities of their international obligations, e.g. on the treatment of hunger strikers.
Diplomatic representations may prove necessary if less senior consular representatives are proving ineffective. It might help to discuss the issue with chancery colleagues; there may be cross-over with broader human rights and projects work.
Similarly, consider ministerial representations, in the form of a letter or a phone call if diplomatic representations are insufficient. Also consider referring to previous ministerial statements or expressions of interest to lower level representations.
Use your imagination and find out who is visiting: there are many other ways to bring pressure to bear on host governments.
We have sought the support of MPs and MEPs, NGOs, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Mayor and Lord Mayor of London and the Royal Family. EU and Commonwealth colleagues may also face similar difficulties and be willing to support.
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